Q & A on COVID-19: What is the current situation in the EU regarding COVID-19?
1. What is the situation in Europe at the moment?
The COVID-19 pandemic is posing an unprecedented threat to the EU/EEA countries and the UK, which have been experiencing widespread transmission of the virus in the community for several weeks. In addition, there has been an increasing number of reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes across Europe with high associated mortality, highlighting the extreme vulnerability of the elderly in this setting.
The absence of an effective treatment or a vaccine combined with an exponential growth in infections from late February led many countries to implement non-pharmaceutical interventions such as “stay-at-home” policies (recommended or enforced), jointly with other community and physical distancing measures such as the cancellation of mass gatherings, closure of educational institutions and public spaces.
2. How are countries in the EU/EEA and the UK responding to COVID-19?
The outbreak of COVID-19 in the EU/EEA and the UK has evolved dramatically, and many countries have moved to a scenario of sustained community transmission with large numbers of cases infected. The rapid escalation of cases in countries such as Italy and Spain has placed an enormous pressure on the healthcare system and this has been a major challenge for local services. All countries in the EU have responded to the emerging situation through implementation of a comprehensive package of measures including surveillance, testing, case management and strategies to mitigate the impact of the pandemic such as physical distancing measures.[
3. How prepared is Europe for COVID-19?
The outbreak of COVID-19 has evolved dramatically in the EU/EEA and the UK. The rapid escalation of cases in several countries has placed enormous pressure on healthcare systems, and presented a major challenge for local services. All countries in the EU have responded to the emerging situation. The situation continues to evolve and lessons are still being learnt and countries are working hard to adapt their response to the ever changing situation.
4. What is the EU doing?
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is in continuous contact with the European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the assessment of this outbreak.
To inform the European Commission and the public health authorities in Member States of the ongoing situation, ECDC publishes daily updates and continuously assesses the risk for EU citizens. ECDC and WHO develop technical guidance to support countries in their response. The European Commission is ensuring the coordination of risk management activities at EU level.
The European Commission is organising regular coordination meetings between the Ministers of the Member States and providing some support for overcoming the equipment and supplies shortages that are being felt in many countries.
5. When can we return to normal?
The stay-at-home and physical distancing measures that have been imposed throughout the EU/EEA and the UK are highly disruptive to society, both economically and socially, and there is very wide agreement that they should be lifted as soon as it is safe to do so. However, lifting the measures too early or too quickly carries the risk of a rapid return to high infection rates, and this could overwhelm the health system while causing high levels of illness and many deaths. The Joint European Roadmap towards lifting COVID-19 containment measures addresses this issue by providing the framework for an economic and social recovery plan for the EU alongside a set of public health principles that are aimed at minimising the risk of a resurgence in the number of cases. Should a resurgence occur, the stay-at-home and physical distancing measures may need to be put in place again.
It is increasingly recognised that we will be living with COVID-19 for many months, or even years. This disease will continue to affect our lives for some time to come, and we all need to prepare mentally for that.
7. How many people have been infected in the EU/EEA?
COVID-19 is spreading rapidly worldwide, and the number of cases in Europe is increasing exponentially in many affected areas.
See the ECDC daily situation update for the latest available numbers.
8. How long will this outbreak last? When will we see the peak?
As greater evidence emerges regarding the nature of the virus and the effectiveness of measures used to control the outbreak, predictions relating to the future course of COVID-19 will become more reliable.
9. Should schools and day care centres be closed?
The evidence we have to date indicates that COVID-19 does not cause serious illness in children – not nearly as much as it does for adults. However, they can still be infected, though the extent to which children play a role in the transmission of the virus to others is still uncertain. Therefore, as one of several measures to limit the possible spread of the virus, most EU/EEA countries and the UK have closed some or all schools and day care centres. However, school closures may have an impact on availability of healthcare staff and other essential services, due to the need for having to care for their children when not in school, which needs to be taken into consideration (e.g. some countries only maintain schooling for these children of staff in a critical role). Also, if grandparents are asked to care for the children, the benefits of lower transmission between children might be offset by transmission into a more vulnerable population group.
Following a reduction in the virus transmission, several countries (e.g., Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Slovenia) have now started to ease some of the measures they have had in place, including by re-opening primary schools and day care centres. If the virus starts to spread again once these measures are lifted, it is possible that schools may have to be closed again for a period of time.
10. Where can I learn more about the situation and the guidelines from my country?
Each EU/EEA country and the UK have dedicated websites with information for the public on COVID-19 and on the national situation.
Consult with your national authorities to get advice tailored for your setting.